Building muscle: the role of diet & exercise
While losing weight is an achievement on its own, building muscle can help you create a more toned body shape. Muscle growth can be a slow, grueling process, but not impossible. With the right diet and exercise supplementation, you can start on a path to consistent, noticeable improvement.
In my experience, a majority of men don’t have a problem doing everything it takes to put on muscle and generally embrace the physical changes. Women on the other hand, tend to have a fear of getting “bulky” or “masculine”. It might come as a comfort to know that the human body can only form about a pound of muscle per month, according to BodyBuilding.com. Men can achieve 40-50 pounds of muscle in an entire lifetime, while women stay around 20. So the potential of an active woman turning into the Hulk in a few months is pretty much unheard of.
There are several factors that contribute to muscle growth, but let’s start with diet. In contrast with the concept of a caloric deficit when you’re losing weight, a caloric surplus is necessary to put on muscle mass. A caloric surplus means you are eating more in a day than your body is able to burn off. This does mean that weight gain is a necessary part of the process, but in a healthy, slow manner.
For adequate muscle gain, it’s recommended that you consume an extra 200-500 calories a day or an increase of 10% overall. This surplus can be a combination of excess protein, carbs or fat. Excess fat gain also comes with the territory of putting on muscle, but don’t let this scare you away from your goals. This is fat that you can chisel away once you’ve built a muscular foundation you’re happy with. Another upside is the excess energy storage in the body supports an increase in strength and ability to lift heavier weight in the gym.
For experienced bodybuilders this period of weight gain is referred to as a “bulk”. There are different approaches, “clean bulks” and “dirty bulks”. A clean bulk means you are eating more food, but not changing the healthy eating choices of your regular diet. A dirty bulk generally means your willing to eat pretty much anything just to see the scale go up. A downside to a dirty bulk is the risk of putting on more fat than anything else. But everyone’s body is unique and finds success through different means. If burgers and donuts fuel your muscles like gasoline, more power to you.
Of course, weight lifting and consistent exercise are an essential aspect of muscle building. There are a few scientific processes responsible for these physical changes: muscle hypertrophy, progressive overload, and protein synthesis.
After a workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process fusing these fibers together thicker and stronger than before. This process results in muscle hypertrophy or growth, according to BuiltLean.com. Surprisingly, you build muscle when you’re at rest, not during the workout itself.
Protein synthesis means the body is using the protein you eat to repair and build your muscles, instead of breaking them down. When the rate of protein synthesis is greater than the rate of breakdown, muscle fibers are successfully growing. You can aid protein synthesis through diet, supplements, and certain vitamins.
Progressive overload is a weight lifting method that can also aid in muscle growth. Progressive overload means you are gradually increasing the amount of weight you’re putting on your body over time. In order to produce muscle growth, you have to apply a load of stress greater than what your body has previously adapted too. This is a gradual increase, over months and years. Don’t rush to squat 400 pounds or you’ll risk serious injury. Make small changes as you get used to the gym setting. An extra five pounds here, extra 10 pounds there, you get the idea. Challenge yourself to the point of failure without risking your safety.
If you want to monitor your muscle growth, you can purchase a body composition scale or get a Dexafit body scan done at a local facility. Body composition scales may cost a little more than your average scale, but through electric panels on your feet, a current measures your body fat percentage, lean body mass, bone density, and water weight.
Muscle progression takes work and dedication, but it can become an addicting journey, allowing you to sculpt your dream figure. Don’t be intimidated by the Olympia bodybuilders or social media fitness gurus, chase the best version of your body and no one else’s. Appreciate the little changes and grow every step of the way.
Take it from me
As someone who is very new to the muscle-building process, I’ve had my challenges and victories. Watching the scale go up isn’t easy, but recognizing that my body is growing in positive ways instead of negative makes it all worth it. No matter how arrogant it may seem, taking progress photos was a huge motivator for me. The camera picks up tiny changes the naked eye would never notice and gave me the pride I deserved for working so hard. I look in the mirror and see something that I built, and there's no greater feeling. After a while I learned my physical strengths and weaknesses, and adjusted my workouts to the areas that needed it most. No matter how slow the process may seem, I know that time is on my side and that I'm constantly improving. Being a female in fitness, I refuse to fear getting "bulky". As far as I'm concerned, I'm getting strong.